Posts Tagged ‘creating characters’

Two crucial skills for the writing life.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Each day, we are bombarded by the tasks we must do, by the things we want to accomplish, and by the demands of tasks and people upon our time. There is only so much time, and so often too many things to do. We necessarily must master the skill of multitasking, of doing more than one thing at a time: answering the phone and emails, scheduling meetings and signings, managing children and pets, managing a household, making time for love, tracking our books and our word count.

Writing & publishing have become a multi-skill career, especially for writers, where we must write, have a business plan, set goals, design covers, write a blog, maintain a website, and market our books. Some of us do all of these things, some of us out-source some of it. And most of us do have other demands placed on our time, like family, friends, favorite past-times, other jobs.

And all of this demands that we multitask, and that is necessary. It’s almost a survival skill.

Lost in all of this multitasking, all of this busyness, is the equally crucial skill of … focus. Being able to focus fully, for long periods, is very important. Lost too is perhaps our best work, our richest and most engaging writing, and our real potential as writers. Without focus, our work suffers, our creativity isn’t as great or as deep. The constant interruptions and distractions mean we not only do not get as much done of what is really important for our dreams (writing, for example), but what we do during those crucial hours isn’t of the quality that we could want.

What can we do to more fully apply that skill of mental focus to our work, our writing. On my blog post about writer’s block (filed under Writer’s Life), I recommend using a timer and freeing up the mind from other things that might intrude. It’s kind of like beginning to practice meditation, where other thoughts and distractions must be kept to a minimum, and where mental discipline must be continually exercised. Once you’ve decided that it is more important that you become more deeply focused when you write, then you will probably think of other ways to accomplish this.

Here are some tips on focusing from that previous blogpost:

1) Before ending the day’s writing time, write a few lines of the next scene or a few ideas for that scene, so that it’s easier to pick up at the next session.

2) As you sit there, take the first 10 to 15 minutes to read a section of a book on craft or articles on craft, to switch your mind from the daily grind to writing and craft.

3) Set up your writing time so that all you have to think about is writing. Since you have other pressing things to do in your day, perhaps schedule your day on the evening before, so that when you begin to write, all of those other things are settled, done, and you’re not thinking about all the other things you have to do that day. Instead you’re thinking about and focused on writing. (see No. 5 & 6)

4) Write in a Journal before you begin your writing time, to dump all the things that are bothering you or distracting you. Assign a maximum time for this (5 minutes), otherwise it could take over much of your writing time.

5) Set a timer for the length of time you want to write and then think of nothing else during that time–that is the time you have for writing–until the timer goes off. This allows you to fully focus on your writing, and to set everything else aside for that hour or for whatever time you’ve allocated.

6) When you sit down to write, if other things occur to you that must be done or that are competing with focusing on writing, then quickly create a list of those things you need to do or think about. And then put it aside, so that they’re all written down and will be less likely to distract you.

7) Plan–an outline or variation of one, but at least a general idea of where you’re going with the novel, whether it’s a general statement, a synopsis with the main plot points, or an outline.

And a quote on the subject:  “…when you are completely open, when on all levels you are in complete communication, completely integrated, then there is joy and you begin to create … creativeness is a sense of total self-forgetfulness, when there is no turmoil, when one is wholly unaware of the movement of thought.” — Krishnamurti.

How do you see yourself applying & balancing these skills in your life?

 

 

Story Arc … and I pose a question

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

The Story Arc is the essential or main plot, the external conflict that becomes the focus of the hero or heroine through which all the conflict is played.

The external conflict involves the protagonist’s main goal and the obstacles that must be overcome.  A novel begins by establishing the protagonist’s ordinary world, and then moves the action ahead with the Inciting Incident, the escalating conflict and turning points,  the black moment, and concludes with the climax, and resolution.

In my previous blog post about conflict (last week), I wrote that conflict unifies and drives the story.  Without conflict, without a unifying plot of some sort, there is no novel. By definition, a novel must have a plot.

The story arc is set up in Act One, by introducing all the story elements–characters, plot, setting, tone, Inciting Incident, POV. The setup orients the readers and focuses the story line.  The Inciting Incident should happen within the first 3 chapters.

But the setup of the story is not completed when the inciting incident happens. Here I’ll pose my question to readers of this blog: What element that starts with the letter C must be introduced to complete the setup? (I’ll answer the question in a future blog if the Comments don’t provide the answer.)

More about Story Arc: The story arc and suspense are powered by the turning points, obstacles, barriers, reversals and complications.  The suspense, as a function of that external conflict or story arc, should be strong enough to carry the reader through to the end of the book. If the story arc ends too soon, the novel, action and characters would then have no direction, no purpose.–the conflict ends, the suspense ends and you’ve lost the readers.

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I’ll be presenting a workshop on the Novel Arcs: Piloting Your Craft, at the Write on the Sound conference, which is October 6th & 7th, with pre-conference workshops on Friday.

Have a wonderful week!!  And a happy and hot August!

The Unsympathetic Protagonist–Characterization

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Nearly every writer has heard about this character. From other writers, from editors, from agents. We know that editors and agents will reject a manuscript with an unsympathetic protagonist. They won’t want to read the novel; they believe, rightly so, that readers won’t like the protagonist, won’t want to spend 400 or more pages in close association with that character.

So who is this mysterious character that invades our prose? Who is this masked entity, this unsympathetic protagonist? … What is meant by this term and how can we, as writers, avoid this pitfall and create characters that are, instead, sympathetic? The answer is: By unmasking these characters, by peeling away the layers, by making them real. …

What can be done to change that character so that he or she is considered sympathetic? Three basic things related to characterization must occur to have the reader perceive a character as sympathetic:  (1) the characters must be rounded and believable; (2) the readers must like them and connect with them; thus, the author must reveal the right balance of the character’s good and bad traits for the story being told; and (3) the reader must understand how and why they are how they are; the author must, therefore, make the protagonist known to the reader. …

What are the techniques needed to make the unsympathetic protagonist sympathetic? As stated above, the main way to do this is to make the reader identify with, know and like the protagonist, preferably before any revelations of wrongdoing. …

In Shawshank Redemption, the character, Andy Dufresne,  has murdered his wife. If we’re introduced to Andy without knowing the extenuating circumstances, then we’re much less likely to try to excuse him and to like him when his good or interesting qualities are revealed. Thus, the storyteller immediately reveals that Andy was upset and drinking, that his wife was having an affair with another man, and that he tried to confront them when he was drunk. The audience can’t approve, but we know why it happened, and we can excuse him more, knowing those circumstances–he didn’t, for instance, murder her for the insurance or because she drank his last beer.  …

The following are 5 of the techniques to help make your protagonist sympathetic:

(Note: these techniques should not be used alone. They work best when several are combined  There are  9 techniques in the article.)

1) Make the protagonist someone who is perceived as more likable and less reprehensible within that group of characters. For example, in Pirates of the Carribean [1st movie in the series], Captain Jack Sparrow is not the worst character among those in the film; we see he has a better standard of behavior than the other pirates and that he’s smarter. He’s not perfect, but we can accept him and like him anyway. Early in the film, he saves the heroine, who we have come to like–and he’s funny, rather charming & smart. …

2. ) Make the anatagonist less likable — someone you’d hate more and whose actions/ words make the audience sympathetic to the protagonist. …

4.) Show that the protagonist has … been wronged, betrayed or hurt by someone–something that will get the readers’ sympathy. For example, in Bodyguard of Lies, by Robert Doherty [Bob Mayer], the protagonist Neeley discovers she has been betrayed: “When had she finally known that the man she loved had handed her a bomb to carry onboard a plane full of people.” …

8.) Show in what ways the protagonists might be admired or have them do something readers would admire. This includes doing something really well, or being a leader of some sort…something that makes the character special. …

9.) Show how the protagonist is the underdog within the group of characters. Examples of this are Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte; the Titanic  [James Cameron’s movie] hero Jack Dawson; and the protagonist Rye Forrester in A Reason to Believe by Maureen McKade. …

How does your protagonist compare with other protagonists & to real-life people?

To grow in our craft, we need to be objective and learn from other writers and from life.  … Analyze why you like certain protagonists. What are their flaws? What do you find endearing or interesting about them?  .. Look at people who you like in real life. What are their flaws? What do you like about them, despite their flaws? Analyzing other protagonists will help you create better characters and increase your repertoire of narrative techniques.

[Excerpt from “The Unsympathetic Protagonist,” an article by Janice Hussein, Document Driven, which appears in Writer’s Digest’s 2010 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Pages 46 – 50. Link to full excerpt of article’s opening: http://bit.ly/zdCMWy on my website www.documentdriven.com.]

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Do you have any techniques or tips for other writers about how to  make a character likable–having readers identify with, like, and connect with a character?